Nov. 19, 2004 -- -- In Seattle today, a woman was sentenced to 18 months in prison for running an international adoption scam.
Lauren Galindo, 53, provided approximately 700 Cambodian children to American couples for adoption. The only problem is that some of the children were not orphans; many of them had been virtually stolen from their parents.
Galindo pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and to launder money.
U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent Leigh Winchell said, "This is profiteering in the adoption process in the grossest sense. This is people making a dollar at the expense of the innocents around the world."
Spent Profits on Luxe Life
The American families who adopted the children were led to believe they were adopting orphans. The actress Angelina Jolie was even one of the clients, although officials said there was nothing fraudulent in that case.
"It was always my intention to save children from desperate circumstances," Galindo said, "and I feel like I was always acting with the highest integrity."
The babies were from poor Cambodian families. Some were told their children would be sent to boarding schools. Others were told that they would be adopted by U.S. parents who would pay them thousands of dollars.
The families were paid very little -- often only in rice. Galindo made many trips to Cambodia and made $8 million in profits for her company, Seattle International Adoption. Galindo spent the money on a lavish lifestyle -- she bought beachfront property, luxury vehicles, artwork and jewelry.
As part of her sentence, Galindo was ordered to forfeit her home in Hawaii, worth $1.4 million.
No Recourse for Cambodians
International adoptions are big business. According to the Child Welfare League, more than 167,000 foreign children were adopted in the United States between 1989 and 2002.
The government does not plan to take any action against unsuspecting U.S. parents. Adoption lawyers say there is very little that Cambodian families can do.
Adoption law expert Mark McDermott told ABC News: "In view of the fact that they very often are very poor families, unfortunately, I don't think they are going to have any recourse at all."
And what of the children? At Galindo's trial, one of the adopted children testified against her: "I have my Cambodian family in my heart, and will always love them."
Many of the other children are not yet aware that they have families in Cambodia.